The Real Breastfeeding Scandal

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Last year, Time magazine’s “Are You Mom Enough?” cover practically shouted “Scandal! Women breastfeeding too long!”

 

The unforgettable image stirred up controversy and I’m sure it sold magazines. But are moms and kids any better off?

 

Now, imagine funneling all that outrage and punditry into something that really helped mothers and their babies when it came to breastfeeding — especially in the developing world where it can literally save lives.

The real scandal is not breastfeeding late, but that too many moms don’t get the support needed to breastfeed early — or to keep breastfeeding, should they want to.

 

In our new report, “Superfood for Babies,” Save the Children estimates that 830,000 babies could be saved every year if they were breastfed in the first hour of life. The colostrum, or first milk, provides a powerful shot of antibodies that can stave off deadly disease. And immediate breastfeeding more often leads to exclusive breastfeeding for six months, which can save even more lives.

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Saving Children’s Lives — What’s New And What You Can Do

The following first appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Like most moms, I love remembering my children’s firsts. Their first steps, first words, first day at school. But, one first I didn’t realize was a milestone at the time was the day each of my kids completed the first month of life.

 

I later learned that, around the world, that first month is the most dangerous time of a child’s life. Infections, premature births and childbirth complications are the leading causes of newborn deaths, but they are highly preventable through basic health care, such as antibiotics, breastfeeding support and improved hygiene.

 

Still, every year, more than 3 million babies die before they turn one month old. Thankfully, that number is dropping, but not nearly as fast as more successful efforts to end deaths to older children and mothers.

 

That’s because global health efforts haven’t quite caught up with what we now know works to save newborn babies. So, although newborn deaths now account for more than 40 percent of child deaths, they are mentioned by only 6 percent of the world’s official development assistance programs for maternal, newborn and child health. Only 0.1 percent of these programs target newborn babies exclusively. That must change.

 

This mismatch of funding and need is one of the major findings of Save the Children‘s new report, “A Decade of Change for Newborn Survival.” A collaboration of 150 global experts and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the report shows that efforts to make basic lifesaving care available to families in poor communities work. Countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Malawi have substantially cut newborn death rates, and have lessons to share with many other countries.

 

One of the most effective methods is Kangaroo Mother Care. When mothers wrap their newborns to their skin, premature babies get the warmth and better access to breastfeeding that can save their lives. Sharing this method with communities where families have limited access to hospitals, high-tech equipment — or even electricity — could save hundreds of thousands of babies a year.

 

That kind of care doesn’t take a lot of money, but it does take political will.

 

The United States has been a leader in reducing global deaths to children under 5 years old from 12.4 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. It’s also a leader on targeting newborns, providing double the assistance of the next biggest donor, the World Bank.

 

To show that you support this kind of leadership, please join Save the Children in calling on world leaders to finish what they started and end preventable child deaths. Sign the petition. Every child deserves a 5th birthday!

Thriving in Nacala: One Community’s Story

I recently spent a week in Africa, my second visit to the continent in 2012.  After a quick stop in Cape Town for The Economist’s global meeting on healthcare in Africa I went on to Mozambique to visit Save the Children programs in rural communities in the north of the country.

 

I came away from this trip with a renewed understanding of the huge difference it makes when a community is really involved with kids’ development.  I visited a village outside Nacala where, besides meeting some truly beautiful children, I also got to see how the whole village was building a better future for their children.

 

The program, funded by USAID and private donors, included several elements.  Mothers, trained by Save the Children local staff members who speak the indigenous dialect, were clearly in charge of the health and nutrition element of the program.  They were weighing each child on a scale hung from a tree branch.  A couple of the kids cried in the little blue sling, but most swung happily as their weight was noted—it was clear that this was something they had done before.  The woman in charge—the community leader of the program—counseled each mom about her child’s progress, showing her on a chart where her child was and the line where he or she should be.  She advised moms to breastfeed their children exclusively for the first six months and to continue breastfeeding through age two for the best health outcome.

 

Next, the women showed me how they make a fortified porridge for the kids from corn meal, sugar, salt, and a few secret ingredients.  The secret ingredients are actually the key for this dish: they include ground sesame seeds for fat content and the leaves of the moringa tree, a local tree that is very high in vitamins. Using another leaf as a spoon, we all got a taste and I could see why the kids were finishing every bite…tasted a lot like grits to me!

 

Then, others community members took me through the agricultural part of this program.  Through double translation (from the local language to Portuguese to English), we followed along charts that detailed the different crops they grew, plans to increase yields, market values, and expected profits for the upcoming harvest.  The community’s ability to sell some of the crop after growing enough for their needs is the difference between children having all the nutrients they need during the “hungry season”  and surviving on a diet of staples that does not fully nourish their growing bodies. Without that income, families can’t buy extra protein and fat they need to ensure their children develop.  Mozambique still has many malnourished children, and 44% of children under five are stunted, according to UNICEF. But in this community, the children all seemed to be flourishing thanks to the hard work of their parents and the support of the program there.

 

As the sun started to set, we concluded our visit by sitting in on the village savings group meeting.  Community members, with women all in matching green scarfs, went through their accounts and made decisions on which members would be approved to take out loans, who may need help from the emergency fund, and which loans had already been paid back with interest to continue to grow the funds.  Save the Children trains community members on how to run these funds and make their own decisions.  This group was on their third round of loans to members and had a 95% repayment rate on outstanding loans.

 

The best moment of this long and busy day came when we were saying goodbye. One of the groups’ members said to me, “We are very grateful for Save the Children’s help in getting this savings group started.  But we don’t need you to stay here to do this program anymore.  We can do it all ourselves now and your team can go teach another village how to do this.”

 

This was music to my ears. Truly, the best result of Save the Children’s work is when a community can support the health and development of their children and we are not needed. This vibrant group of people has built a community that invests in the health, wellbeing and future of its children—a model of self-sufficiency that so many communities can emulate.

Making Hunger Obsolete

I traveled this week to India, both for Save the Children visits and to take my daughter Molly (10) and son Patrick (16) along to see a fascinating place they had never been during their school break. After the Taj Mahal and the backwaters of Kerala, we went to see a program in action that showed that, even in the toughest places, children can thrive.

The mobile health clinic arrives in Okhla. © 2012 Save the Children Photo By: Carolyn Miles

 

We visited the slum area of Okhla, not far from the Save the Children office in Delhi. A mobile health van comes to this dirty, crowded street once a week to deliver two doctors, a nurse, a pharmacist,

PHOTOS: Hometown Heroes

How do you save the lives of children who would otherwise die of diseases like pneumonia, the number one killer of kids in the developing world? Get a hometown hero on your side.

 

Frontline Health Workers are saving lives every single day in places like Uganda and Kenya, where I traveled just a week or so ago, and in Nepal, Bangladesh and countries all over the world. These workers—predominantly women—are active in their own communities and often have just a basic primary school education. But they are there every day, in the places where kids and moms are dying and can be saved, using common sense and simple tools to save lives. They are given training on how to recognize and treat basic childhood illness like pneumonia and diarrhea that can kill kids if not treated quickly. They need only simple

Abdi’s New Life – Part 1

CAROLYN_MILES_HEAD_SHOT_062001 Carolyn Miles, President & CEO-elect

Hagadera Refugee Camp, Kenya

August 17, 2011


Today we traveled to one of the camps to meet with Abdi, a shy 13-year-old boy with bright dark eyes and a tough story with a happy ending. I thought how young and small he looked, remembering my own towering son at 13.  We sat outside on straw mats, huddled close to the mud wall for some shade from the afternoon sun and spoke wIth Abdi and the woman who lived here about his journey from Somalia and his new life in Kenya.

With his head hung, he told us that both his parents had died in Somalia, first his mother and then his father.  An uncle had taken him in and then in a desparate bid to get Abdi to a better life away from famine and civil war, had paid for him to travel alone for several days on a truck, packed with other Somalis, along bone-jarring roads.  He arrived at Hagadera camp on his own knowing not one single person.

We had met Abdi the day before at the registration center where Save the Children staff meet unaccompanied children and help get them food, supplies, clothing and most of all a foster family where they can stay while we try to trace parents or any relatives.

We got him what he needed and then staff started to work to find him a place to stay.

As we heard today from his kindly new care giver, it turns out Abdi thankfully had already started his new life with some luck

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Learn more about our response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Help Us Respond to the Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa. Please Donate Now.

 

 

Shocking News? Bipartisan Support for Child Health

Paige Harrigan 2 Paige Harrigan, Save the Children, Nutrition Advisor

Westport, CT

Friday, February 25, 2011


Last week, I found a pleasant surprise in the free Examiner newspaper they hand to commuters hurrying down Metro escalators here in Washington. The paper has a conservative slant, but the editorial on page 2 made the case for common political ground. The headline’s bold letters cried out, Child nutrition: A true bipartisan issue.

Yes! That was my personal reaction because I’m a mother and I’m a nutritionist. I know how critical proper nutrition is for childhood development and health. And here was the Examiner saying Michelle Obama’s child nutrition effort both “enjoys and deserves bipartisan support.”

Last month the same paper ran a story suggesting a possible link between the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign and an increase in pedestrian deaths. That story caught fire in some regions of talk radio and the blogosphere.

I only wish the Examiner’s message on child nutrition would catch major attention, too. Maybe it can, if only because, in the current political environment, bipartisanship is itself pretty shocking. Perhaps an even bigger story along the same lines could really grab the spotlight.

Imagine, for example, conservatives and liberals joining together in a broader strategy of investment around child health. Imagine them recognizing that the nutrition and health of children – not only in the United States, but also around the world – is directly connected to America’s future.

Well, surprise! On some level, that’s already happening. A broad range of officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Democrats like Sen. Richard Durbin and Rep. Nita Lowey, and Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Dave Reichert, are among those who agree that investing in development abroad is a critical investment in U.S. national security and our economic future.

Unfortunately, the House Republican leadership isn’t listening, yet. They’re talking about slashing all international assistance, which would drastically undermine programs for children’s nutrition and health. I wonder how much they have thought this position through. Too much austerity today not only denies millions of children the chance to grow up healthy and productive, it increases the risk of global instability and economic stagnation tomorrow.

That’s because, shockingly, one third of children in the developing world are chronically malnourished. That means their physical and intellectual growth is likely to be permanently stunted. They will never reach their full potential.

Malnutrition also puts these children at far greater risk of early death. Yet, things as simple as breastfeeding and introducing a more diverse diet to children under 2 can protect them from fatal disease. As it stands, eight million children die each year before they turn 5 years old, mostly from preventable and treatable causes, such as pneumonia and diarrhea.

U.S. foreign aid has been instrumental in helping many countries reduce child deaths – cutting the annual global toll in half over the last 40 years. We cannot stop now.

I think we can all agree we want to grow the global markets that our nation’s economic growth increasingly depends on. And I think we all can agree we must guard against global instability that costs us far more when it bubbles into terrorism and war.

So why not agree on this as well: let’s invest in children to provide an indispensable foundation for our future – both at home and abroad.

Ambitious Goals Six Months After Pakistan’s Devastating Floods

Alex gray

Alex Grey, Deputy Team Leader, Save the Children – Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan

Friday, January 28, 2011



Six months after the severe floods devastated the whole of Pakistan from the north to the south, an area greater that Great Britain, the crisis for Pakistan’s children is far from over. Cases of disease and malnutrition are increasing; millions are without adequate clothing and shelter during the freezing cold winter nights and in the worst-hit region, the southern province of Sindh, large areas still remain underwater. Many farmers will not be able to plant winter crops, meaning their livelihoods and access to food in the coming months and years is severely affected. Government officials say some of the worst-affected areas could take up to six months to dryout.

I recently arrived in Pakistan to take over as the deputy team leader for Save the Children’s flood emergency response. I decided to take the role after visiting in October, almost three months on from the floods, when I saw what a massive crisis this was (something that did not come across in the global media the same way that the Haiti earthquake crisis had earlier in the year). I had recently returned from Haiti, which was hit by the astonishingly devastating earthquake in January earlier that year, and I had not expected to land in Pakistan and see a disaster on the scale of which I did. After spending two weeks with the extremely hard working and dedicated team here in Pakistan who launched and were in the middle of a massive (and somewhat successful from Save the Children’s part) response, and after being confronted with such a massive crisis on the ground and seeing the dire need here in Pakistan, I knew I wanted to come back and work here.

Having just arrived into my new role, and having went into the field and spent two weeks in Punjab and in Sindh, the worst hit by the floods, I realize there is still a massive amount to do to restore the lives of the flood affected communities, and I worry that things will not improve in Pakistan for a very long time. I say this, because I have sat and chatted with children in our temporary learning centres and child friendly spaces (huge tents that we constructed to replace damaged schools where kids come together, learn and play in a safe environment) and heard from them how, that even when the school building was there before the floods, they had not attended school in two years because the government-paid teachers had not come to teach them. If this was the case before the floods, I fear what the future will look like for these children. That’s why Save the Children has ambitious aims.

During my first two weeks in the field, I spent a lot of time in flood affected communities with children and parents hearing their stories about what happened during the floods, in the immediate aftermath and listening to and observing their needs now, 6 months on. One of the most pressing and immediate needs that children and parents alike conveyed to me time and again was still shelter, warm clothing and blankets. It’s warm and sunny in the days, but bitterly cold in the evenings – I have experienced it myself but nothing compared to what the flood affected communities here have to endure. The majority of children (and parents) I spent time with have one set of clothes, thin as they were wearing them in the summer, and the rest of their belongings (clothes, blankets, furniture) were washed away in the floods, often along with their houses. Some are now living in tents, some are building back mud houses themselves, which will more than likely only be washed away in any future floods, some are building temporary shelters (with the help of Save the Children and other actors), but some are still living under tarpaulins without blankets and warm clothing. Save the Children has been providing shelter,blankets and winter clothing and is still distributing these life-saving relief items but it is still not enough despite the massive scale and number of beneficiaries we have reached.

Another major concern is with health and nutrition. I visited a stabilization centre run by Save the Children in Shikarpur in Sindh, where severely malnourished children were referred to by our mobile and static health and nutrition teams in the field. I met with four mothers and their severely malnourished children and was moved to tears to see a young boy almost 2-years-old who was so malnourished that he looked only 5-months-old. Another boy could not stop crying, but no sound was coming from him because he was so malnourished that he didn’t have the energy to make a sound. I could see the pain in his eyes and in his face, and then I spoke to the mothers of these poor children, who were largely malnourished themselves, and heard their stories and of the pain that they felt because they did not have the means provide food and nourishment for their own children.

I thought of what that must feel like for a parent, to not be able to provide for yourself and for your children, and the indignity of it. Again, I felt my eyes welling up. The positive thing about the experience is that all these children who I spent time with were going to live because of the intervention of Save the Children and our wonderful staff who go out to the communities and mobilize them and work hand-in-hand to identify and address their immediate needs. In addition, the mothers’ details were taken and our livelihoods program will ensure that they will receive a cash grant which will hopefully see that their family do not go short of food and survive until the worst of this crisis is over. That day spent in the hospital with the malnourished children, their mothers and our dedicated staff of doctors made me realize how important it is for the government, donors and international community to keep responding as we move into the“recovery phase”, and we are all working hard and hoping that we can continue to build back better these communities in the months and years ahead.

As we look forward at our recovery strategy I am asking myself what we can do to improve the lives of children in Pakistan in the future. It’s what everyone is talking about 6 months on from the floods. However my first impressions and observations after spending two weeks in the field is that it’s hard, even impossible, especially for the flood affected communities in Pakistan, to think about or focus on the future when there is still so many basic immediate needs that have yet to be met.

We have had a great response so far and I am so proud of the 2,000 amazing and dedicated staff here working 7 days a week who have been distributing relief items, providing shelter and protection and safe spaces for children ensuring their health needs are met and that their education continues.The work here is far from done and it will take a very long time for Pakistan to recover, but when I visit a hospital and speak to a mother whose young boy’s life has been saved due to our good work, I am inspired, thankful and hopeful for the future of the children whose lives were (and are) at risk after the floods six months ago.

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Learn more about our emergency response to the flooding in Pakistan 

 Help Us Respond to the Pakistan Flood Emergency. Please Donate Now.

Haiti One Year On: Implementing Sustainable Development

Maite_alvarez Maite Alvarez, Food Security and Livelihoods Manager,  Save the Children

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I worked in Haiti in 2004, when I responded to two natural disasters and civil unrest in Cap-Haïtien. Six years later not much has changed.

On top of the earthquake, Haiti has faced four emergencies in the last 10 months: hurricane season (Tomas flooded many of the flimsy tents around Port-au-Prince), then came the cholera epidemic and finally the pre- and then post-election violence. How can any country have the opportunity to bounce back let alone recover in such circumstances?

I was in Juba, Southern Sudan when I heard that an earthquake had struck Haiti. I could not believe my ears! Haiti has always held a very special place in my heart, maybe because I met my fiancé in Cap-Haïtien and because all the wonderful moments we experienced with all our Haitian friends dancing kompa and talking about why they would never leave Haiti. 

I work as part of the Food Security and Livelihoods team with Save the Children. We are 16 in total, 15 national staff and me. Sadly I am the only woman in the team, but we are trying to rectify this!

After the January 12, 2010 earthquake, a large proportion of Port-au-Prince residents lost all their belongings. Women, both as family providers and as small-market traders, have borne the brunt of this loss and income. One disastrous consequence is that without a reliable income families are no longer able to pay the school fees to keep their children in school. In Haiti it is the women who generate the majority of the household income.

Livelihoods underpin sustainable development. Save the Children’s goal is therefore to improve and diversify livelihood activities to enable families to provide appropriate care for their children, send them to school and ensure that they are healthy and well nourished. As we transition from the emergency phase to longer term development, our Livelihoods programme aims to support Haitian households to do this. 

My work is to increase and improve people’s access to employment opportunities, with a particular focus on the market traders who sell their wares in the Croix des Bosalle market – the major market in Port-au-Prince.

We also want to help small businesses such as carpenters and blacksmiths with grants to rebuild their industries. But in order to receive these grants, the entrepreneurs are required to take part in Business Development Services (BDS) training. By linking small-scale market traders to business development and microfinance services, we support traders to develop business plans and increase their knowledge of management capacities and knowledge and access to micro-credit and savings plans.

Our programmes also supply small grants with which people can recover the tools and household assets they lost during the earthquake – with the money a plumber can buy a wrench; a carpenter hammers and nails and a mother can buy pots and pans to cook for her children.

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Learn more about our recovery response to the earthquake in Haiti.

Help Us Respond to the Haiti Earthquake Recovery. Please Donate Now.

 

An Appetite for Change: 2011 Hunger Report on Ending Hunger and Malnutrition

Jessica headshot Jessica Harris

Media Relations Intern, Save the Children

Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

 

The 2011 Hunger Report is a “200 page hooray” for U.S. leadership and focus on global food security, said Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann.  Nodding in agreement were Mr. Beckmann’s fellow panelists, Dr. Rajiv Shah of USAID, Roger Thurow of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Inger Andersen of The World Bank, and Carolyn Miles of Save the Children.

Each night, 925 million people go to bed hungry.  This number, which has increased in past years due to a spike in food prices in 2007-2008, is unacceptable.  In a world of plenty, how is it that so many have to suffer through malnutrition and hunger pains on a daily basis? 

This is the question the panelists addressed today as they discussed the key focus points of the Hunger Report and the programs that will help to reduce the number of malnourished children.  According to Inger Andersen, one in five children worldwide is malnourished.  Save the Children’s Carolyn Miles emphasized that child malnutrition creates lifelong and generational impacts:  growth is stunted, immune systems are compromised, and cognitive function is negatively affected.  The first 1,000 days – from pregnancy to age two – is the critical time for child development.

 


     

In an effort to eradicate hunger, the 2011 report has outlined various programs that focus on linking agricultural practices with good nutrition.  Dr. Shah highlighted ways to introduce farmers to crops such as drought-resistant corn and more nutritional grains, increasing family income as well as improving health.  Carolyn Miles recommended that these programs happen on the ground in an integrated way to ensure that families grow foods packed with nutrition, citing the example of a family in Guatemala that she recently visited.  The family has two sons with a three year age difference, yet both children are the same height and weight because the younger son had the benefit of a Save the Children integrated agriculture, nutrition, and livestock project.

During the question and answer session, one reporter asked Dr. Shah how participating organizations will measure the success of these anti-hunger programs.  Dr. Shah responded by expressing that hunger will not be eradicated in five years.  This is just not feasible. However, the main goal right now is to target five to ten countries, decrease the number of people who go hungry every day, and use those examples to prove that this can be done on a larger scale.  

As the discussion came to a close, the panelists highlighted the most important points to take away from the well received report.  According to Carolyn Miles, it is “critical that we focus on the most vulnerable families.”  In perhaps one of the most powerful statements made Monday morning, Dr. Shah concluded the discussion by calling the fight against hunger the “challenge of our time.”